Exquisite Silk Embroidery

While I was at Sewing For Pleasure, I spotted some copies of this book on a bookstall and had a quick browse. But by the time I went back to the stall to buy a copy, they had all been sold. Eventually I tracked down a copy on Book Depository.

Chinese Embroidery: An Illustrated Stitch Guide is by Shao Xiaocheng and published by Better Life Press (ISBN 978-1-60220-015-9). It’s a good-sized hardback with over 160 pages and colour illustrations on virtually every page. I certainly don’t regret buying it. I have found it useful, interesting and inspiring, but I do have some serious reservations about recommending it. So this will be a mixed review.

The first thing to note is that the cover says ‘Over 40 Exquisite Projects’. If you think that you’ll get instructions for items like the cover photos, please be aware that only the small beaded flower in the top left of the picture is one of the projects from the book. The rest of the photos on the cover are the author’s own incredibly proficient silk embroidery. While you do get a few close up pictures of her work, you would need a good many years of experience with silk embroidery to begin to emulate her.

The second thing to note is that the translation into English is far from easy reading. This is frustrating. The first two sections of the book are an autobiographical piece and then a quite detailed look at the history of Chinese embroidery and its various schools. The poor translation spoils these sections, and although there are photos of lovely old works, they are usually quite small and hard to make out. Bigger photos would have also helped here.


There are a good many photos of the author’s own embroideries throughout the book, and a few of them are close-up sections, sufficiently detailed that you can see the individual stitches. This is useful and inspiring – and makes me wish that I had even half of her technical skill.


The next section covers fabrics, threads and tools, setting up a frame, transferring designs and making some of the special threads used in the designs. It goes into just enough detail, but no more, although the pictures help when the language is ambiguous. Then onto the various stitches used: clear, well illustrated and useful, with a small sample project for most of the stitches shown. I learnt a lot from pages showing various Chinese methods of shading with satin stitch and long-and-short-stitch.

The projects provide the next two sections of the book and are mostly quite simple: such everyday things as bags, mats and dress trimmings, mainly in folk-style embroidery. To me, these were the least interesting parts of the book, although the projects are reasonably clear. After the ‘everyday’ projects, there are three ‘Artistic’ projects. A picture of children worked in traditional hair embroidery, a picture of a basket of flowers in couched metal thread and a riverside scene made of many layers of criss-crossing silk stitches. These are presented with much less instruction than the simple projects. They are there more to give an idea than as how-tos, although there are some detail photographs.

The final section of the book talks about collecting silk embroidery, the care of pieces, how to tell real old work from fake pieces, and more. This is informative and interesting, despite the translation problems. There is a glossary of Chinese stitch names and a good index.

To sum up, this is definitely not a beginner’s book, it’s not really a project book, and you need to know quite a bit about what you are reading to make much sense of the poorly translated text. It does showcase lovely embroidery, there is some valuable information in it, worth digging out, and the stitch photos are extremely clear and helpful. If you are interested in Chinese embroidery and/or in working with silk, you will probably get quite a bit from this book. I did.


6 Responses to “Exquisite Silk Embroidery”

  1. Elmsley Rose Says:

    What an awful tease! *smile*

    • suetortoise Says:

      I would have been less happy if I had bought the book without a chance to look at it first. I knew roughly what I was getting, and I was happy with that. I wasn’t looking for projects.

  2. Unfortunately poor translation is getting to be a bigger problem. It’s hard to do a good translation at the best of times, and with a very specialist subject like embroidery, it becomes even harder.

    But what you’ve done is provide a useful and informative review – thank you!

  3. dezertsuz Says:

    A very useful review. If I buy it, I’ll be like you, knowing what I’m getting into. Thank you.

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